“Special” Sasikala: Why Didn’t the Karnataka Government Act?

“Special” Sasikala: Why Didn’t the Karnataka Government Act?

An RTI activist accesses the report of the special committee formed to probe into the allegations that jailed AIADMK leader VK Sasikala had special facilities accorded to her; and wonders why it was not actioned upon.

The issue of special facilities being provided to expelled AIADMK leader VK Sasikala in the Bengaluru Central Prison appears to be set to go to court, now that the report of the one-man committee has come into public domain.

The report of the committee, headed by retired IAS officer Vinay Kumar, has confirmed all the allegations made by the then Deputy Inspector General of Police (Prisons) D Roopa, that Sasikala was given facilities that were in violation of the Karnataka prison manual.

“I will be taking the issue to court. First, I am sending a legal notice to the Karnataka government as to why no action was initiated. Why was the government keeping the report in cold storage?” T Narasimhamurthy, Dalit activist and advocate, told The Lede.

Narasimhamurthy accessed the report of the committee through an RTI a couple of days ago, even though it was submitted to the government in October 2017. The committee was set up after Roopa’s report to the government led to a public spat between her and the then DGP (Prisons) HN Sathyanarayana Rao. Both were shifted out of their posts after the committee was set up.

Sasikala began her four year prison term after the Supreme Court convicted her in February 2017 in the disproportionate assets case – better known as the DA case – in which she was named as accused number two. The late chief minister, J Jayalalitha, was the accused number one before she passed away.

The enquiry report has confirmed the allegation of Roopa that two cells had been given to Sasikala and her niece Illavarasi, and the three other neighbouring cells had remained at their disposal on the false premise that they were required for security reasons.

All the facilities provided to Sasikala and Illavarasi were in violation of the Supreme court’s order that she will not be treated as a Class A prisoner. Despite that, she was allotted two cells for her use, facilities to cook her own food and was permitted to wear her personal clothes as well.

The report said: “She was allowed an individual cell, a chair, fruits and biscuits, soap, toothpaste and own clothes.” She even had facilities to cook her own food. She had an assistant, another woman prisoner, to help her cook. One official told the committee that a pressure cooker was found in her cell, along with some food stuff that was stored. But, the committee found that the cooker was, indeed, being used for cooking.

During one of its visits to the prison cells, the committee found that the shelves had been emptied out in the cell. The report said: “One of the members of our team passed his hand on the shelf and found unmistakable traces of turmeric powder. This further raises strong suspicion of food being cooked in the cell.”

The committee had to verify CCTV footage to come to the conclusion that the vague replies of officials were factually wrong. Sasikala was receiving visitors in violation of Rule 601 of the Karnataka Prison manual which stipulates that any visitor was permitted to spend only 45 minutes with a prisoner.

Reports to senior officials showed that the visitors had spent not more than 4 minutes, but the CCTV footage showed that on at least two occasions, Sasikala spent five hours on at least two occasions with advocate Asokan, on 29 June, 2017 and 7 July, 2017 respectively. The committee termed it as “falsification of records”. A special register had also been opened only for visitors to meet Sasikala.

The enquiry committee has confirmed all the allegations made by Roopa in her letter of July 2017 about the special facilities being provided to Sasikala, except for one. This pertains to the allegation that prison officials received Rs 2 crores as bribe to provide the special facilities. The committee referred the allegation to the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB).

“I feel it should have led to its logical end,” said Roopa, speaking to The Lede.

The uncertainty has arisen because the report was, according to Roopa, “…accepted by the government in 2018, and despite the case being referred to the ACB, nothing seems to have happened since then.”

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